Friday, November 18, 2005

Values Based Behavior

We’ve been conditioned for a very long time to believe that what is good for corporate America is good for all of us, and despite mounting evidence that this isn’t so, we’re all still nodding and humming along. This week, a report shows that corporate America is so far behind in paying for employee pensions, that anyone who has one might as well forget about it. Our retirement system is about to collapse.

Our health care system is collapsing, too. Over 48 million Americans have no health insurance, and that number is on the rise. The number of uninsured children is increasing, too. The number of Americans living in poverty is also on the rise, despite the much touted economic recovery. Most people have lousy health insurance, and are scared to death that they’ll get sick. The Medicare prescription drug plan is going into effect, a wonderful program that will help insurance and drug companies add to their profit margins, while adding an extra monthly “user fee” to folks living on fixed incomes, many of whom are already making some difficult choices between food, rent, and medication.

The solutions being proposed to these situations are things like privatizing Social Security, cuts to Medicaid, food stamps, low income student loans, and school lunch programs. We hear a lot of talk from our friends in Washington about values – particularly family values – but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand how robbing seniors and taking food off the plates of schoolchildren can be considered values based behavior.

This past weekend, in Tamworth, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Eastern Slopes and The World Fellowship Center co-sponsored a screening of the new documentary that’s being shown across the country, and creating a buzz. The movie is called “Wal-Mart – The High Cost of Low Price.” Over 50 people attended the screening, and took place in the discussion that followed. Wal-Mart raked in $10 billion in profits last year. Their CEO, Lee Scott, received a bonus of $22 million – over his $1.5 million salary. They are the biggest employer in the world, and hugely successful. The chief reason for their success is the US taxpayer, who spends about $2.5 billion annually on federal assistance programs that Wal-Mart employees are eligible for. The cost of subsidizing health care for Wal-Mart is $210 million – and counting. The cost to NH taxpayers has been nearly $5 million so far. With $10 billion in profits, it seems to me that Wal-Mart shouldn’t be relying on taxpayers to pick up their tab.

The consensus among the movie viewers in Tamworth is that boycotting Wal-Mart will never make any difference. There are too many people who just plain can’t afford not to shop there – and Wal-Mart’s scorched earth policy has left few shopping alternatives in many places. It is possible, however, to influence corporate behavior. McDonald’s wraps their sandwiches in paper, due to a national outcry about the Styrofoam boxes they used to use. A continued outcry against the corporate welfare

Wal-Mart benefits so much from will hurt their image, and force them to change their behavior. The next time you hear DHHS Commissioner John Stephen complaining about Medicaid costs, be aware that in addition to Wal-Mart, some Dunkin Donuts, and Shaws employees are receiving Medicaid benefits in NH. Employees of the US Postal Service and the NH state government are, too.

The old saying “if we keep on doing what we always done, we’ll keep on getting what we always got” has never been truer. We’ve all been hurt by the high cost of gasoline, and we’re all approaching the winter with trepidation about the cost of heating our homes. Our elected officials are responding to this crisis by slipping a provision to drill in ANWR into the budget. Studies by the Dept. of Energy show that drilling in ANWR will reduce the cost of a gallon of gas by about one penny in 20 years. Clearly that’s not the solution to our energy gluttony. Conservation would go a long way – increasing the CAFÉ standards for US vehicles to 40 mpg would reduce our oil consumption by 6 million barrels of oil every day. Our national fuel economy is actually worse today than it was 20 years ago, yet we hear nothing of conservation. Instead, we have US automakers continuing to churn out SUVs and giant trucks as though we had an endless supply of oil. The foreign oil market will become increasingly tight as we compete with the growing energy needs of China. There’s no time like the present to begin modifying our behavior. It’s a sin that conservation doesn’t seem to be a part of our national values.

I was sorry to see that the town of Fryeburg chose not to purchase their water company. Once a private company owns the water company, one of the global water corporations can come in and buy the company – and sell Fryeburg water to the highest bidder. It may seem like good fiscal thinking at this point – but if Bechtel or Veolia comes along and purchases the private company – Fryeburg will not control its own water supply. More and more companies are buying up land to secure the water rights, so that the water can be sold. Water is essential to human life – and it is finite. We should all be thinking long and hard about protecting our water supplies. The cost may have seemed high to voters in Fryeburg – but the cost of not having water or having polluted water supplies will be much, much higher. As the selectmen work toward forming a new water district, they should remember that local control is of vital importance.

“Corporation, n., An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.” Ambrose Bierce

No comments: